Ann Wright: Garden ghoulishness

It’s Halloween — and it’s more than just a day to go about in funny, sometimes frightening costumes, visiting haunted houses, eating snack-sized candy bars, and, of course carving pumpkins! Halloween is also a good day to appreciate some rather haunting, terrifically scary plants! The magnificent plant world contributes to unusual, macabre, strange-looking things that grow.

For instance, take a look at Hydellum peckii, known as bleeding tooth fungus. The name alone is a bit daunting. This unusual mushroom earns the name because of a thick red fluid that oozes through pores on the outer surface of the cap, giving the appearance of blood seeping through its pores! How cool is that? The mushroom is found predominately in the Pacific Northwest, and in Europe – and can be found among mossy coniferous forests. Although it appears to be highly toxic, it is not — but it is inedible because of the very bitter taste.

What better way to decorate a ghostly haunted mansion than to include some black bat flowers, blades of blood or perhaps a corpse flower? Wouldn’t that be thrilling! The very stunning, but slightly startling, black bat flowers (Tacca chantrieri) are from sub-tropical regions and grow from tubers somewhat like yams. Black bat-shaped bracts are similar to petals but the true flower lies within the bracts. These are surrounded by several long, drooping, whisker-like bracteoles giving the appearance of whiskers.

Blades of blood (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), is also known as Japanese blood grass. This ornamental grass is best grown in a pot due to its tendency for being invasive. The tips turn red in the fall which makes the blades of the grass look like they were dipped in blood.

The astonishing corpse flower is very interesting, rare – and, yes – smelly. Amorphophallus titanium, also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant, is a tropical plant which grows naturally near rain forests. This special plant is actually on the list of endangered plants, although several may be found at botanic gardens and university conservatories. The titan arum (another name of the corpse flower) earns its name as corpse flower — when it blooms, it smells like rotting meat. The good thing is that the smell attracts insects and beetles which are important pollinators for this unusual giant flower. It takes years for the plant to bloom. One at North Carolina State University took 13 years to bloom for the first time. Some bloom every five to seven years.

Closer to home, but speaking of smelly plants, garlic — also known as the stinking rose, is easy to grow and can be started now for late summer harvest. Garlic (Allium sativum) is related to onions, shallots and leeks which are also in the genus Allium. There are many different types of garlic. Hardneck and softneck describes the type of “neck” or stalk that grows up the center of the bulb of the garlic. Hardneck garlic varieties have stiff stalks, around which grow individual cloves. Softneck stalks are composed of tightly bound leaves rather than a hard stalk. Softneck garlic is easiest to grow, and seems to store better than the hardneck varieties; both are generally full of flavor for culinary uses.

To plant garlic, the individual cloves are separated from the bulb. Plant the larger cloves, and put aside the smaller cloves to plant for earlier harvest. Don’t peel the cloves, plant with the blunt end down, about one-to-two inches deep, with four-to-six inches between the cloves. Each clove will mature into a whole head, or bulb by next year. The smaller cloves may be planted in a separate area to harvest during the growing season, and may be used like a mild garlic-tasting green onion.

The Master Gardeners of Nevada County have a virtual workshop today at 9 a.m. Join us for “It’s Alive!” A Special Halloween Soil-Building workshop. The presentation is via Zoom which can be accessed from our website at http://ncmg.ucanr.org. On Nov. 7 and 14, a two-session workshop, “The Art and Science of Pruning” will be presented, also via Zoom. Details will be posted on our website for this workshop. The pruning workshop will be the final workshop of the year, but there are plans for more virtual workshops next year. At 10 a.m., join Master Gardeners and Friends for our radio program (10 a.m. to noon) on KNCO, 830 AM – It’s a call-in show so please call us with your home gardening questions!

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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